Although skating was born in Europe, figure skating as we know it today traces its origins directly back to an American - Jackson Haines. Haines was born in New York in 1840 and died in 1875 in Finland after catching pneumonia while traveling by sled from St. Petersburg to Stockholm.
Just before the Civil War, a skating craze (accompanied by a dancing craze) swept over America. It was during this time that Haines leapt into the limelight with his mastery of skating and dance. He was a true revolutionary in a country where figure skating had laboriously developed a stiff and rigid style. The free and expressive movements of his performances were condemned by many Americans. In 1863 and 1864, he won the Championships of America (now known as the U.S. Figure Skating Championships), but he continued to receive cool receptions from his countrymen. His lack of popularity in America finally prompted him to go to Europe, where he was an immediate success. He was especially popular in Vienna, where he gave birth to the so-called "international style of figure skating."
While Haines gave America its first taste of the international style of figure skating, it was not until the turn of the century that this influence finally began to secure its place in the American figure skating community. This event came about thanks to the efforts of Haines and three other figure skating pioneers: Louis Rubenstein, George H. Browne and Irving Brokaw.
Rubenstein, of Montreal, Canada, was one of the first individuals who recognized the merits of the international style and the need for organization in a sport that had largely existed as an informal collection of skating clubs. It was through his efforts that the first attempts to form a national governing body began.
In the late 1880s, Rubenstein was the force behind the formation of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada (now known as Skate Canada) as well as the National Amateur Skating Association of the United States and the International Skating Union of America, both of which were forerunners to U.S. Figure Skating.
While Rubenstein laid the groundwork for uniform competitions, tests and a future governing body, it was Browne and Brokaw of Cambridge, Mass., who put that work into action by means of the first "International Figure Skating Championships of America," considered to be the first championship of the United States in the new international style.
Browne, who had studied with the leading European skaters of the day while in Davos, Switzerland, was a staunch supporter of the international style of figure skating, authoring several books and developing a new type of skate in order to promote this method of skating.
Much of the success accomplished by Browne was augmented by Brokaw. Brokaw, who had been influenced by the skating of Haines, collaborated with Browne throughout the early 1900s, demonstrating the international style throughout the country.
Brokaw was part of the first formal demonstration of the international style in 1908, and was the first American to participate in international competition, placing sixth at the 1908 Olympic Winter Games in London.
In 1914, Browne organized the first International Figure Skating Championships of America under the auspices of the International Skating Union of America (I.S.U. of A.), the governing body for both speed and figure skating during the early 1900s.
The competition was created to promote the international style and attempt to streamline figure skating in the United States.
As a result of the direction brought by the I.S.U. of A., and Browne's efforts to create uniform standards for skating, the United States Figure Skating Association was formed in 1921 to govern the sport and promote its growth nationwide.
Known today as U.S. Figure Skating, the organization is comprised of member clubs, individual members and associate members. When the association was formed and became a member of the International Skating Union (ISU), there were seven charter member clubs of U.S. Figure Skating. Currently, there are more than 750 member, collegiate and school-affiliated clubs and more than 1,000 Learn to Skate USA programs. Membership in U.S. Figure Skating carries certain privileges and entitles figure skaters to participate in tests, competitions and shows sponsored by the association.
Until the early 1920s, there were no set standards for proficiency in the sport; if a skater felt qualified to compete, he or she did so. Today, skaters must pass a series of progressively more difficult tests. The highest test level in singles skating consists of the senior free skate and moves-in-the-field tests. In 1938, formal ice dancing tests were established and, in the late 1950s, pairs tests were established.
Competitions on every level are a principal incentive for figure skaters to train, develop and improve their skills. By ascending the competitive ladder, competitors registered with U.S. Figure Skating gain entry into international figure skating events including the Olympic Winter Games and the World Figure Skating Championships. All major qualifying competitions such as the regionals and sectional championships and U.S. Championships are sanctioned by U.S. Figure Skating and conducted with the support of member clubs.
Exhibitions and ice shows provide experience and exposure for many young, up-and-coming athletes. Member clubs are eligible to hold carnivals and shows with sanctions from the organization. Ice shows, as we know them today, actually originated from U.S. Figure Skating-sanctioned carnivals. In the 1920s and 30s there was no such thing as a commercial ice show. At that time, a few member clubs hosted annual amateur ice carnivals that showcased the top national and international skaters. Only later, after champions such as Sonja Henie of Norway had gained their reputations through these carnivals, did they turn professional and inaugurate the professional ice shows and exhibitions.
An important function of U.S. Figure Skating has been the organization's development of the Memorial Fund. The fund was instituted following the 1961 plane crash that killed the entire U.S. World Team, as well as officials, coaches and friends. The Memorial Fund was created to give continuing support and assistance to young skaters.
U.S. Figure Skating has published a monthly magazine, Skating, since the debut issue in December 1923. The magazine provides information on the world of skating for members and the sport's enthusiasts. In addition, U.S. Figure Skating launched its first website in 1996. Since then, www.usfigureskating.org has grown into one of the most comprehensive websites for figure skating in the world.
In 2002, the ISU Council implemented the international judging system to replace the 6.0 system. It was first voted into use and is now used at all ISU- sanctioned events and U.S. Figure Skating qualifying events. The new system gains objectivity by utilizing computer technology and a technical panel in addition to the judging panel.
In November 2006, U.S. Figure Skating launched icenetwork.com in partnership with MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM), the interactive media and Internet company of Major League Baseball.
Icenetwork.com serves as a portal to enhance the figure skating fan experience. With extensive free content from around the world and access to subscription-based video through the icenetwork.com Season Pass, icenetwork.com covers every angle of the sport of figure skating.
Figure skating has come a long way since the time Haines took to the ice, and its continued growth will be assured through the support and guidance of U.S. Figure Skating.